Report – Queer Pedagogies workshop May 2022
Report on a Workshop held at the European University Institute on 30 and 31 May 2022
We opened the workshop by mapping the reasons and inspirations for organizing the event. Firstly, we mentioned recent policies that limit queer knowledge exchanges and target queerness in educational settings. Secondly, we gave a critical overview of how these topics have been approached in academia, unpacking the term “queer pedagogies”, how it’s connected to debates over different meanings of “queer”, and how it works in the context of pedagogies.
PANEL 1: Queer Youth and Teacher Activism
Merlin Sophie Bootsmann: The fears and joys of being a gay teacher. The formation of the working group of gay teachers within the Gewerkschaft für Erziehung und Wissenschaft Berlin 1978-1989
This presentation addressed the topic of anti-queer education policy and resistance towards it in Berlin between 1978 and 1989. Merlin Bootsmann first gave a historical overview of the working groups of gay teachers who organized themselves to fight against the threat of being fired for being gay. Bootsmann showed how in the 1970s, gay teacher groups moved from using the labor law to mobilizing human rights discourse to fight for their right to safe employment. Interestingly, the presentation discussed also emotions attached to the everyday experiences of gay teachers, especially how fear was collectively addressed, and focused on communal and joyful experiences of being gay teachers, despite widespread homophobic campaigns against gay teachers.
Lee Dibben (online): “We can speak for ourselves”: Youth agency and education in the British lesbian and gay youth movement, 1978-1988
Two of the next presentation explored the histories of the collaborative efforts between queer adults and youth, which have been a vital part of the LGBT+ movement in the last third of the 20th century. Lee Dibben’s paper looked at the spaces of queer youth agency in England between 1978 and 1988 to show how education was used as a political tool. Specifically, Dibben argued that adult-led organizations for queer youth, such as the Joint Council for Gay Teenagers, approached the topic of education differently than those led and organized by young people themselves, such as London Gay Teenage Groups and the Lesbian and Gay Youth Movement. These examples show that young queer people were able to speak for themselves and bring change to their communities, for example by organizing a project that collected testimonies of queer young people and adults with the goal of promoting lesbian- and gay-inclusive education.
Sydney Ramirez: Studying the circulation of knowledge in the Boston Alliance for gay and lesbian youth, 1985-1995
Sydney described the organization, Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth (BAGLY), a youth-led and adult-supported organization founded in Boston, Massachusetts in 1980 as a space for counseling and socializing for queer youth. Similar to Lee Dibben’s presentation, this paper highlighted tensions between youth and adults in terms of decision-making and hierarchy within the organizations. In the case of BAGLY, one of the most important issues were the finances of the group and its approach towards trans inclusivity. Sydney Ramirez showed that while youth members were attracted to BAGLY events to engage in open discussion of gender expression and identity throughout the 80s and 90s, the adult leadership continually argued that the organization was underequipped to deal with transgender issues. Responding to member demands, the steering committee arranged for state-funded social welfare services to be provided to trans youth. This analysis highlighted how the youth groups facilitated the emergence of these early support services, which can count es the first examples of the legal recognition of transgender youth populations. The collaborative intergenerational work was in this case crucial for shifting the terms of equality and inclusion within the public sector.
Amy Kobayashi and Kazuyoshi Kawasaka: Unexpected Diversity: Experience and influences of LGBTQ+ JET teachers in Japanese rural areas.
The paper asked how gay international teachers taking part in the Japan Exchange and Teach program fostered sexual diversity and challenged heteronormativity and gender norms in the 1980 and 1990s in small-town Japan. The JET program was introduced in the 1980s with the aim of cultivating international awareness and understanding of cultural diversity in Japanese local communities, among others, through sending international teachers to schools across Japan. It had not been intended, yet some of the international teachers nevertheless engaged in LGBT+ activism, and some of them were gay themselves. In 1988 JET program participants organized a gay peer-support group. Later, in 1995, JET teachers took part in organizing ‘Stonewall Japan’ which is one of the earliest LGBT+ groups in the public education sector in Japan and is still active.
Amy Kobayashi and Kazuyoshi Kawasaka asked how JET teachers navigated the heteronormative school spaces. They have found that none of their interviewees were open about their sexualities in Japanese schools, although all of them were already openly LGBTQ+ before they arrived in Japan. The main reason for this ‘silence’ was to avoid further problems. Though the JET teachers had and have no way to change the official curriculum, queer teachers were able to tackle the heteronormative and gender bias by way of the hidden curriculum. For example, they would engage in topics such as challenging the gendered representation of certain professions, queer coming-of-age literature, or the history of the LGBT movement in the US. The study has found that the difficulties LGBTQ+ teachers faced and the ways in which they coped with those varied significantly, based on the teachers’ race, class, and gender. Something that we discussed during the Q&A session was the uneven distribution of power between the US and the rest of the world, issues around cultural colonialism or how LGBT+ activism that originates or takes its inspiration from the US can also be implicated in neo-imperialist hierarchies.
FIRST KEYNOTE by members of the Intersexioni Collective (chair: Ezgi Guler)
Michela Balocchi (Florence): Sociological research and activism for intersex human rights
Michela explained what the notion ‘intersex’ refers to, how intersex bodies are currently ‘managed”, and how these practices and the terminologies around them constitute an arena of oppression. She focused on medical interventions on the intersex body, in particular sterilizations, feminizing procedures, and masculinizing surgeries.
Stephan Mills (Rome): Intersex: The perspective of an intersex medical student
Stephan talked about his own experience in the medical system as an intersex person and shared his knowledge on the issue as someone who is training to be a medical doctor. He also discussed the detrimental consequences of interventions on the bodies of intersex minors. The presentations were followed by an engaging discussion on the different attitudes of parents of intersex children, the legal changes that have been taking place (or not) in some countries towards banning “correction” surgeries, and the collaboration between the intersex community and other parts of the LGBT spectrum.
PANEL 2: Everyday Queer Pedagogies
Linda Luv: Performative pedagogies for the everyday. Performance as a tactic to queer the embodiment of sex and gender in everyday life
This paper analyzed the performance Linda Luv organized with her family members during a trip to an art museum in December 2020. It addressed the representation and perception of sex and gender, especially with young children. Following theorists of gender and of the everyday like Judith Butler and Michael E. Gardiner, Luv asked how gender norms can be challenged in raising children, as parents or in early education. This paper specifically focused on following the impulses of children for queering the everyday. It claimed that young children are often still unaware of socially constructed gender practices, hence they do not necessarily claim a specific gender for themselves, nor do they necessarily assign a gender to everybody.
The performance the paper analyzed started off from a Playmobil set called “family fun” which depicted a four persons heteronormative family that was engaged in very stereotypically gendered activities. Luv struggled with the decision to buy it as she was worried it was not beneficial for her one-and-a-half-year-old son to engage with such conservative gender stereotypes. When she ended up buying it, her child surprised her by assigning family members to each of the figures not based on gender correspondences, but rather on hair length. Taking this perspective, the family developed a performative intervention. For one afternoon trip, they appeared as this ‘playmobil’ family. As a connecting garment, they all wore a gym bag with a print of whom each of them represented. While being out and about they observed the reactions of their environment. The emotions and reflections of participants varied greatly. In the end, the performance was a space for unlearning and learning gender while following the children’s impulses, which gave a lot of agency to children and showed how malleable gender representations and perceptions can be.
Lee Campbell (online): Homo humor: LGBTQ+ storytelling through humor
In the first part of his presentation, Lee Campbell discussed Homo Humor, his curated program of gay male artists’ moving images and films. Organized first in Miami in January 2020 it toured around many European cities and events. The main theme of Homo Humor is the potential of humor for gay male communities. Campbell and his colaborators explore how the histories of humor and queerness intersect, and how forms such as camp and absurdity are embedded in LGBT+ lives. The project shows that humor can be a playful way of communicating, but also a strategy to challenge, transgress, subvert, and rebel against societal standards. Lee Campbell argues that it can also be a way to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ issues and encourage LGBTQ+ filmmakers as well as audience members to share their stories. On the one hand, humor can help to survive difficult moments, build empathy, and cheer one up. On the other, it can be a form of self-control and of controlling others, a way to mask one’s feelings.
The last part of both the paper and the presentation moved to the topic of the Polari language, a gay slang, that is at the core of Campbell’s poetry film The Tale of Benny Harris (2022). Polari is a language that originated in the 19th century and has many versions used today. It is also part of a larger group of gay slang languages used by queer people to form a community and speak without being understood by outsiders. During the Q&A we discussed who uses the language, and what problems may arise from the idea of teaching the Polari language to a wider audience.
Tianqi Panda Zhang (online): Queering the space: A case study of a self-access learning center at a university in western Japan
This presentation addressed the topic of creating and maintaining queer safe spaces when they are not provided by the official authorities. Panda looked at how the Self-Access Learning Center (SALC) was queered at a university in western Japan that he attended. The campus in question did not provide a formal support center for LGBT+ people like the Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) and LGBTQ+ Resource Centers that can be found on European and American campuses. Despite or because of this lack of formal support space, students and staff organized themselves in queering the neutral space of the self-learning center in different ways, for example by socializing there and sharing reliable resources and LGBTQ+-related educational materials, activities, and events.
Using the author’s firsthand experiences as a student staff member, queer activist, and researcher, in addition to interviews with queer center users and non-queer staff members, this study described the SALC’s role as an alternative to a dedicated LGBTQ+ center, and its impact on both queer and non-queer individuals. Moreover, it also highlighted the issues, challenges, and possibilities surrounding queer usages of space. They can tackle insufficient institutional support and queer environments that are not specifically designated as such. Based on this case study we discussed how such everyday queer pedagogies could be broadened and applied elsewhere. We also talked about to which extent the fact that the SALC was specifically provided to study English, to which extent this foreign language context offered itself to be turned into a queer safe space. Could such spaces also be accessible to less privileged students who do not learn or speak English?
Ahmed Ragab (Baltimore): Travails and trivialities: On queering pedagogy and why it matters
In this keynote speech, Ahmed Ragab addressed various issues. With a view to his own work with the Black, Brown, and Queer Studies (BBQ+) centre that creates an alternative research/artistic/activist+ space built on solidarity and generosity, Ragab talked about post-colonial, anti-racist, anti-capitalist and queer approaches, and how these are deeply intertwined. He also discussed how gendered and sexual normativity were still shaped by colonialism and how this affects the way people feel. He finally touched on how history can be taught in non-normative ways and how endeavours to do that in his own practice, to open up fresh spaces and vistas for critical thinking and practice.
PANEL 3: Queerriculum
Francisco Sanchez Torres (online): A queer past for a queer present: the challenge of teaching queer classics
This presentation explored queering the teaching of Classics. Often regarded as an elitist discipline, Classics are largely based on nineteenth-century positivist perspectives, erasing the queer aspects of antiquity and recreating a cis-heteronormative past. Lately, the development of Queer Studies has produced a shift in the perception of the Greek and Roman past, opening new paths for research. Francisco Sanchez Torres’s paper argued that the queer past includes numerous lessons about gender, sexual violence, and social dynamics that move far beyond binary understandings and offer different conceptions of how gender could be socially configured. However, his paper proposed not only to teach about Greek and Roman queerness, but also to develop education in Classics from a queer perspective, also for the Latin language. He shared teaching materials and some guidelines from his own practice.
Gaia Peruzzi, Vittoria Bernardini, and Raffaele Lombardi: Reflecting on gender diversity in students’ autobiographies: Evidence from the workshop “Gender, Cultures, Society” at the Sapienza University of Rome (online)
This paper presented the results of a study conducted during a multi-year workshop for undergraduates called “Gender, Cultures, Society” carried out within the Sociology of Culture programme at Sapienza University in Rome. The aim of the workshop was to address the gap in the educational system that does not address gender diversity, and in scientific approaches that fail to build gender awareness. The workshop provoked students to reflect on what gender means to them in their lives. First, the course introduced theoretical approaches to gender. Then, as an assignment, students were asked to write a social autobiography thereby focusing on their gender. The aim was to develop their competencies to analyze gender as a social construct, to discuss the role of gendered norms, and the persistence of gender inequalities. This idea built on bell hooks’ proposition of an “engaged pedagogy” (hooks 1994), which focuses on students’ opportunity to apply academic knowledge to their own lives. The workshop also constituted a form of action research, as the social autobiographies have also themselves been analyzed to generate insights into young people’s views on gender.
Kaustav Bakshi (online): Queer people pedagogy and tools of evaluating queer knowledge: Doing Queer Studies in an English literature department in India
In this paper, Kaustav Bakshi shared his experiences of teaching queer studies to advanced graduate students at the English Department of a state university in eastern India. He teaches ‘Queer Studies’ as an optional course since 2005. Until 2018 homosexuality was a criminal offense in India, and homophobia continues to have a negative impact on the lives of LGBT+ people. The paper focused on the pedagogical methods applied by Bakshi, who uses innovative ways to introduce students to queer theory as well as to the lives of queer people in India. He decided to remove most of the academic requirements and assignments, and instead teaches a class that aims to create awareness of the actual lives of queer people in India. As he said:
“The ‘Queer Studies’ course, unlike any other in the Department of English which primarily focuses on textual analysis, enabled instructors to introduce an interdisciplinary method of evaluation which required the students to step outside the classroom and develop inter-personal connections with the LGBTIQ+ community, participate in queer cultural activities and the Pride, etc. – to make sense of the practicality of queerness beyond theoretical deliberations and literary texts which are part of the curriculum”.
Another aim of the class is to reflect on the positionality of India and its relation to queer theory produced mainly in the US and Europe. Bakshi asks students to discuss how knowledge produced by and for queer lives in the Global North requires to be re-shaped when applied in South Asia. And more generally: Queer stories need to be told differently depending on one’s location. In doing so, Bakshi proposed to rethink methodologies of teaching traditional disciplines such as English literature.
Melanie Graves: ‘I am haunted by this history, but I also haunt it back’: Exploring the intersectionality of gender, sexuality, race, multilingualism, and identity in teaching Jay Bernard’s poetry collection Surge with my A Level English Literature class
Melanie Graves shared insights about teaching queer poetry in a secondary scholl level education college in London. She used space in the curriculum where teachers and students can themselves decide on what they want to focus. Graves’s students, who were largely multilingual, multicultural, and non-white British, wanted to engage with some local literature, with authors they could relate to and whose work actively intervened into contemporary settings. Graves introduced them to the poetry collection ‘Surge’ by Jay Bernard, a queer, south London, British Jamaican poet. In doing so, she aimed at normalizing queer British literature within the classroom, as well as at developping the emotional literacy of students.
The themes that emerged during the course were chosen family, homophobia, police brutality, and institutional racism. All these were discussed were discussed with an eye to real-life, local events. Bernard’s poetry discussed the Grenfell fire in 2017, the New Cross Massacre and the Brixton riots that followed it in 1981. The community space People Empowering People in Peckham that responded among other things to the 2018 murder of Naomi Hersi, a black trans-woman. Reading and analyzing Bernard’s poetry allowed students as well as Graves herself to re-consider their sexual and gender identities. Overall, Graves showed how English teachers can critique the educational canon of cisgender-heteronormative white British literature, despite how critical discourses are sidelined within educational spaces. Bernard’s poetry served as a platform for moving towards topics such sexual and gendered diversity, queer people of colour, as well as transphobic and racist hate crimes.
PANEL 4: Challenging Educational Systems
Odirin Omiegbe (online): Assessment of treatment of queer children and youths in the Nigerian educational system
Odirin Omiegbe presented the results of a large quantitative study conducted in schools in Nigeria that aimed at answering the question how LGBT+ children are treated in the Nigerian educational system. Omiegbe received 500 responses to his 23-question questionnaire based on a five-point Likert scale. Respondents were living in Edo and Delta States, Southern Nigeria and were selected through simple random sampling techniques. The data were analyzed with simple percentages. For context, the paper explained the broader situation of queer people in Nigeria and Africa, in terms of social attitudes, state policies, and how the laws are enforced in everyday life. The Nigerian government does not recognize LGBT+ rights and offers no protection against discrimination. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is criminalized, to various degrees. The lives of LGBT+ people differ depending on within which region of Nigeria one lives, especially between the northern and the southern parts of the country, and between urban and rural areas. One’s socio-economic status also has a decisive impact. The legislation concerning LGBT+ has significantly worsened since January 2013, when the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act (SSMPA) came into force for the whole state. In addition to prohibiting same-sex marriage, the law forbids any cohabitation between same-sex partners, bans any “‘public show of same-sex amorous relationship'”, and prohibits anyone from forming, operating, or supporting gay clubs, societies, and organizations. According to a 2017 poll, 90 percent of adult Nigerians support the SSMPA.
Omiegbe provided clear evidence and data that show how LGBT+ youth experience homophobia in schools in Nigeria. Generally, the results paint a bleak picture. Most respondents agree that queer students are “disordered”, “abnormal”, “immoral”, “unnatural” and they support the government ban on and prosecution of queer people. Religious belief is an important source of homophobia, as 96% of the respondents state that their religious community strongly opposes queer people and the acceptance of sexual and gender diveristy. The final part of the paper proposed solutions that can be implemented to enable queer children and youth to access and to survive education in spite of these more than adverse circumstances.
Syeda Ali: Hard left education authorities and extremist teachers: Resisting section 28 from within
Syeda Ali’s paper discussed the narratives of resistance towards Section 28, a law passed in England and Wales in 1988 by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government to prohibit the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools passed. Section 28 is remembered as the law that destroyed the lives of queer students, and silenced resistance to homophobia in schools, as local authorities, schools, and teachers were blamed for “corrupting the youth”. What is less well remembered, though: There were many teachers and local authorities who actively obstructed the implementation of Section 28. Ali argues that against popular belief, Section 28 did not silence the resistance to heteronormative ideas of the family, especially in schools in London. Based on local authority archives and new oral history interviews, her paper discussed the different ways in which teachers protested against, circumvented and purposefully disrupted the implementation of Section 28.
Catherine Roach: Teaching ‘good sex’: challenges and possibilities of teaching sex-positive, queer-friendly, inclusive feminist sex education to mainstream American college students
Catherine Roach’s paper was based on her teaching experience as a Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Alabama where she created and runs a very popular class entitled “Sexuality & Society”. The class attracts students from all programs, from engineering to English, and embraces queer pedagogy perspectives to talk about sexuality in a way that is queer-friendly, inclusively feminist, sex-positive, and justice-oriented. The presentation focused on the voices of the students, whose feedback during and after the class shows how students criticize the “abstinence-only” curriculum they knew from secondary school and that reproduces the heteronormative gender-binary as well as patriarchal norms. The alternatives Roach’s students discuss highlight the liberating possibilities of a trauma-informed learning space focused on a politics of pleasure.
Gracia Trujillo (Madrid), Dominik Kuc (Warsaw), David Gasparjan (Berlin): Roundtable and Conclusion. Queer Pedagogies, Different Approaches and Transnational Possibilities
Gracia Trujillo provided a stimulating input on queer pedagogies, covering a range of topics around colonialism, Anglocentrism in academia, and the link between theory and practice in queer pedagogies. She also shared her critical analysis of knowledge production, the non-institutional forms of teaching and learning, and of non-vertical forms of knowledge transfer. In an effort to present what we can learn from queer theories and practices originating from Latin America, Trujillo discussed the radical meaning attached to the term “queer” and provided examples of queer pedagogies that were developed there. Dominik Kuc introduced the LGBTQ+ Friendly School Ranking project that he and his collaborators run in Poland—and recently in Belgium. They ask young people questions about the visibility of LGBT people at schools, discrimination by the school teachers or school management, whether LGBT topics are discussed in class, or whether rainbow events can be organized at the schools. Based on this research, they promote the top 10 LGBT-friendly schools in the country. The responses of students also showed that 30% of young people do not feel safe at schools in Poland. David Gasperjan presented a project he is working on at the Free University of Berlin: “k2teach – know how to teach” which aims to improve university teacher training. Furthermore, the project is empirically researching what role gender plays in teaching, and it creates concepts for teaching Queer history.
The concluding discussion revisited several of the conference’s main topics, explored the potentials and challenges of queering pedagogies, and assessed the success of the event itself as a queer-pedagogical intervention into higher education.